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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

310                   MODERN  GERMAN LITERATURE

cripple, often an attitudinizing fraud. Something of this strange
conception of the artist may be due to the vogue about 1900 of
Lombroso's Man of Genius; but it is also by way of reaction from
the old romantic Verhimmelung of the poet as one born in a golden
clime, dowered with heaven knows what, ambrosial-locked, adul-
ated, in short Tennyson or Paul Heyse or Wedekind's Rammer-
sanger, or Hofmannsthal's Titian. There is only one previous author
with whose interpretation of the tragedy of the artist Mann's can
be compared. But in Gottfried Keller's Der grime Heinrich the lesson
that life lies away from dream and mental effort is rather to be
gathered by the wise than thrust to the front of all eyes; Keller's
significance here is rather in the example of his own life - he, a
great and sensitive artist, turned his back on art and letters and
did his tedious duty for years as Staatsschreiber of the canton of
Zurich. To go farther back, Goethe was lost for years in the
common round of duties useful to his fellow-men: was he then
a traitor to his genius or, for a period, sane?

Thomas Mann wrote Buddenbrooks (1901) when he was twenty-
five ; it made him a reputation which he progressively consolidated,
It is a story of the parallel decay in the fortunes of a merchant's
family in Lubeck and in the capacity for life of the members of it
as succeeding generations take on more and more of the polish of
culture. Through all Thomas Mann's work winds the grey thread
of this idea that degeneration is the fruit of culture, that with
culture goes physical decay. One ghastly detail recurs with un-
pleasant frequency: the carious teeth of the cultured; the last of
the Buddenbrook dynasty suffers agonies and in the end dies from
diseased teeth. Two of Mann's characters (the author Spinell in
the short story Tristan and the fat, degenerate husband in Luischen}
are beardless in manhood (like Conrad Ferdinand Meyer before
his Indian summer). It is in this conception of catastrophe spring-
ing, not from the classic conception of 'tragic guilt' or the roman-
tic conception of uncontrollable passion, but from a natural and
inevitable process like that of seeding after flowering, that Thomas
Mann is an innovator; to have proved with a slow, painstaking
logic supported by all the evidence of science that culture is death
(and with this idea he interweaves the still more tragic conception
that love is death) is to have earned a secure seat with the im-
mortals who have struck out into new paths in literature. The
lesson is, in ftuddenbrooks as in the following stories, enforced by